Ethical conduct has always been a source of contention in the world of professional sports. This makes sense once you realize that these individuals are being paid to win. It is no surprise then that many individuals have turned to illegal or unethical means in order to ensure their victory.
Most of you are probably familiar with the recent doping scandals that have rocked mainstream sports organizations, such as the MLB and NFL. In the twenty-first century doping has became a major issue for all professional sport organizations, not just the mainstream ones. Being a professional athlete has become such a glorified career path with so many perks, including fame and extreme wealth, it is no wonder that some people have done whatever it takes to stay at the top. So how does this relate to me?
Well, I am an equestrian (horseback rider for those of you who have not heard that word before). Most people don’t know much about the equestrian sport and therefore most of this organizations dealing go unnoticed by the general public. However, I am here today to give you a little idea about why the horse industry has the potential to be corrupt at times.
I have been riding and showing horses since I was five years old. I have traveled all over the country with my horses to various nationally recognized competitions. While, I was not (nor am now) a professional, I was regularly competing against and being trained by top professionals. Being in this environment I heard and saw a few things that still make me cringe to this day.
I know what most of you are thinking, horses on steroids? What a silly thought. But it is true. What many people don’t realize is that the equestrian sport is a multimillion industry. Horses are expensive, and I mean expensive. To buy one of the best horses in the country today, no matter what the discipline (jumper, dressage, eventing, etc.) would cost you more than most people spend to buy their first house, and that’s just what you are paying to buy the horse. After that you have to pay all kinds of monthly maintenance fees such as care and board, insurance, and training fees. It all adds up quickly, and needless to say, the more valuable the horse and the better facility you are training at, the higher your bill will be at the end of the day. Ultimately, the people that are competing at this level have a great amount of capital invested in these animals, and the money trail doesn’t end there. Besides just the projected sale value of your horse, there are major financial prizes for winning top competitions. For example, there is a competition held in September in Saugerties, New York, where the total prize money for ONE class is $1 million, with the winner walking away with $350,000. Not too bad right?
Well, with all this money up for grabs it is no surprise that some individuals have become greedy, willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to win. In my time as a rider I have heard some absolutely terrible stories about the things trainers and/or riders have done to give them that “competitive edge”. Some of the horrible things that occur at competitions regularly include trainers giving horses dangerous drugs for anything from trying to effect energy levels to trying to mask an injury; or trainers injecting the horses legs with a drug that makes it causes pain to make the horse jump higher. So what do we do then to ensure that these horses are treated humanely?
Well the equestrian community has already created the FEI (the international governing board of equestrian competitions) and the USEF (the domestic governing board) for this very purpose. Both of these organizations have an ethical code of conduct that all equestrian participants pledge to uphold when competing at their events. Both the FEI and USEF officials do not take these issues lightly and send individuals that work for both organizations the horse shows that they sponsor in order to conduct random drug and welfare checks on competitors and their mounts.
Drugging in the sports world is a serious and widespread issue. While authority figures are doing all that they can to ensure the health and welfare of the horse community, it is ultimately up to the caretakers of the animal to do the right thing. I hope that with the recent publicity surrounding unethical behavior in professional sports that people will continue to be encouraged to behave responsibly and if all else to scared of repercussions to act otherwise.
Riding a horse is not so easy…here is a video of the 2009 competition to break the world record for the tallest jump cleared by a horse and rider combination. Skip to the end of the video and see the winner clear 6’7″.